There’s a widespread view that strengthening local communities will be crucial in the years ahead, to help us all to live with increasing levels of disruption, e.g. to food supplies, utilities, weather patterns, and probably social cohesion. During a recent week-long pilgrimage walk in Italy, I was slowly pondering how we can learn to live with the impacts of the climate crisis and the many other troubles of our times. The idea that is bubbling up for me is adaptive networks.
I am deliberately using the word adaptive to link this to Deep Adaptation, because I believe we are now at a time when the major upheavals in societal and economic systems, predicted by Jem Bendell in 2018, is starting to happen, and sadly is likely to accelerate. So we are approaching a time when we will need to apply Deep Adaptation principles in daily life, in our local communities. For more on Deep Adaptation, see www.deepadaptation.info, or my overview blog.
My initial ideas about adaptive networks would be along these lines:
Overall aim: To provide mutual support and create more collective resilience within a physical locality, to help face future disruption from climate change and other sources.
Material: Various forms of resource-sharing and mutual support on the material level could be explored, for example: growing food together, coordinating shared stocks of essential food supplies; sharing transport, equipment, etc.
Emotional: An adaptive network would recognise the need for mutual emotional support in these times, and would meet regularly to enable this, probably using processes such as the Work That Reconnects and methods from Deep Adaptation.
Inspirational: Jem Bendell, Joanna Macy and many others have highlighted how the climate crisis challenges us around finding meaning and purpose in life: an adaptive network would ideally help its members to explore this dimension, but without advocating any specific spiritual approach.
Gathering people to form such networks does not look easy to me. For the past 12 years, I have lived in a pleasant market town in Dorset, but my attempts since 2020 to get my local community to engage in much more basic forms of climate response has had little uptake. Few of us want to appear cranky or alarmist, and there’s a risk of this if we start talking to friends and neighbours about preparing for food shortages and other emergencies.
So far, the best role model for adaptive networks I have found is the Solaris movement, which began in France, and is now active in 24 countries. Solaris helps people to create in-person networks which create a directory of each member’s skills and resources (e.g. vehicle, generator, allotment, chainsaw). They also set up independent communication between members using CB radio or walkie-talkies, to create resilience against failures of the internet and mobile phone systems. Each local network meets in person regularly, and also meets periodically with neighbouring networks, to scale up resilience. See more at www.solaris-france.org.
Two of the books which may be relevant in exploring this terrain are How Everything Can Collapse by Servigne and Stevens, see my summary blog here, and Navigating the Coming Chaos by Carolyn Baker, see summary blog here. We can see all through the sweep of history, and right now in the climate crisis, that humanity struggles to prepare for major impending challenges. Timing is one problem: floods, food shortages, power cuts and major storms are all likely in the next few years, but no one can say exactly when.
What I am advocating here has nothing to do with escaping to the Hebrides or other extreme forms of prepping: I am suggesting that we create more resilience where we currently live, and do so soon before the disruptions get more severe. You may wonder why this can’t just be done by individual households: many of the shrewdest climate observers, including Jem Bendell and Charles Eisenstein, believe the collective dimension is crucial: for both emotional and material support.
If you already have a group who’d like to explore creating an adaptive network, I can suggest some good material to help you develop relevant skills. This is the Future Conversations programmes, which I helped to develop and pilot in 2019. It’s a series of facilitated conversations to help members of a local community to build their skills, understanding, and action plans for resilience around climate change. These programmes can be done in person or online.
I am now looking for role models, lead indicators, and people to share this exploration with, both in my local community, and elsewhere. If any of this strikes a chord with you, please get in touch.